By Katie Elin-Salt, a re-blog from The Honest Actors blog in 2015
It’s June 2010. I am wearing a green Karen Millen dress complete with matching heels that my Mother bought for me and I have had my hair professionally blow dried for the occasion. My graduation photo. There I am, proudly clutching my 2:1 BA(Hons) Acting from the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama – with absolutely no fucking idea what was supposed to happen next. I’m sure you can see the panic in my smile. After 17 years of solid education and structure the only thing I know is that yes, I would like to carry on being an actor please world, and that the girls are on about us all moving to London for a bit to try and see how it all goes down. 5 years later, I am still here. I did move, I did work as an actor, I didn’t work as an actor – but I’m still here. I am going to share 10 life lessons that I have learned in that time – some I wish somebody had told me on that day in the green Karen Millen dress, some I am really, really glad they didn’t.
1 – London Is Like A Terrible Boyfriend
I once met a boy who was a real wrong ‘un. When we met I thought he was terribly exciting and totally set apart from all the safe, homely boys I had known before. I dropped everything to be with him, even though I was well aware there was a very slim chance of things actually working out well between us. When I told people I was with him they were impressed, and he gave me a lot of opportunities. But he didn’t care about me. He gave me very little attention. If I couldn’t do exactly what he wanted exactly when he wanted me to do it, he would carry on without me. He was rude. He was cold. He stole all my money. But he was really, really fit. The less he gave the more I wanted. And sometimes, in the midst of all the dismissal and cruelty, he would take me dancing in places I never thought I would go. He would show me amazing things. In those moments he was magic. Most of the time when I was with him I felt powerless – like nothing I could do would ever be enough, like it would make no difference to him if I was there or not, like I didn’t know why I even bothered when life would be so much easier with anybody else. But whenever I left I missed him, I missed all of him – and much as I hated to admit it to myself, everything else would always be just a little bit more boring because of him.
There’s your metaphor London you horrible, sexy little shit.
2 – Some Of Your Friends Will Be Doing Better Than You
“ I am thrilled to announce I will be joining the cast of ……”
Somebody from your year in drama school is going to get a ridiculous gig as soon as they graduate and is literally never going to stop working. They are going to do amazing things such as getting on to the property ladder at the age of 24 and regularly appearing in the copy of the Evening Standard that you are reading on the way home from work.
Here is what that means – That they are doing well in their chosen career and that is bloody fantastic for them.
Here is what that does not mean – That every other aspect of their life – their relationships, family stuff, mental and/or physical health are instantly a million times better than they were before because their career is going well. That their lives are suddenly problem free. That they need your friendship, your celebrations in their success and your support in their sadder times any less than they did before.
I’m really sorry, but there really is no easy way around this, you just have to get over yourself and be happy for them. Love them in the ways you always have. Because there is nothing worse than a bitter actor, because they deserve it and because you would want the same from them if/when it is you.
Unless of course they are a totally talentless dickhead. We will deal with you next time.
3 – Some Of Your Friends Will Not Be Doing Better Than You
On the flip side of this, at any given point while your busy tweeting about only having 20 minutes in between Panto performances (#Exhausted #SoBlessedThough) – some of your brilliant, fierce, sickeningly talented friends will not be working for complete bullshit reasons that you cannot or should not try to understand. They will be ok, of course they will be ok. But they will probably feel, at times, a bit shit about the whole thing.
Do – Buy them wine. Howl at the moon with them at the injustice of it all. Listen.
Don’t – Patronise. Explain. Complain at them that you’re not sure whether to take the tour you’ve just been offered because your agent thinks you should do more T.V.
4 – You Will Not Be Best Friends With Everyone You Work With
This one took me a while. Decades worth of youth theatre and drama school closer-than-your-own- family behaviours led me to the false understanding that everyone who you share a stage with will form an instant and iron-like bond with you that none but death shall part.
Then I worked with some people who didn’t like me. Amazing, I know. It was rubbish. Sometimes it came with a subtle indifference, an invite quietly missed out of the drinks after work, a sly comment in a dressing room that probably wouldn’t have upset me if I wasn’t in a strange town without my back up crew. Sometimes it got a bit mean. All I wanted to do in these situations was call the whole cast together before warm up and scream “WHY DON’T YOU LIKE ME ? I’M REALLY REALLY FUCKING NICE !” at them, whilst simultaneously beating them round the head with my fantastic personality that they had unfortunately missed up until now. But here’s the thing. They didn’t have to like me. They just had to work with me. If you find your self in this situation I would suggest you keep your head down, be polite, don’t take any bullshit, do any snivelling in the toilets for no more/no less than five minutes, then do your job and afterwards phone your mates who properly loved you before hand and will still properly love you after.
But I’ve also worked with lots of people who did like me (Phew!) with whom I formed whats app groups, in which I wouldn’t go an evening without cracking up at the millions of in-jokes sent between those in our select crew. People who I cooked for, drank with, who met my family, whose houses I stayed in, cars I drove, children I baby sat, who knew absolutely every gory detail of my life in and out of work for the time we were together. Then the jobs ended and we all went home. They are still wonderful people, you will see them again, if your lucky enough work with some of them again and it will be like nothing has changed. But life is busy, life goes on – and that is ok.
5. You Will Be Best Friends With Some People You Work With
However, sometimes, against all odds – some will stay. And if you are very, very lucky and you find a diamond in your digs – you may just have bought yourself a fast track, 3 month intensive crash course in best-friendship that normally takes the trajectory of about 10 years.
Hold on to these people. They are rare and precious. If they can handle you at your “12 people in the audience red wine hangover 10am matinee in Hull” then they absolutely deserve you at your “West End Transfer Press Night.” Congratulations – you have just won the jackpot. This is one of the biggest achievements of your career so far. Yes, even bigger than your Offie nomination.
6. You Will Be Poor
Oh my God you will be poor. The minus sign in front of your account will become a long forgotten irrelevance as you bed down for a long term stay in available balance land. You will be so scared. You will manage tell yourself you are doing o.k at 12.01pm and then at 12.02pm you will realise that rent is due next Monday and it’s everything you have. You will feel like the actual worst person in the world when you phone your Gramma and sob when she offers you another £50 of her retirement money because your shoes aren’t waterproof anymore. You will sadly watch as your home friends who were as broke and useless as you during the uni days – slowly sail away into functioning adulthood with their useful degrees in useful things getting them useful jobs which pay for useful stuff like houses, a dog, a family, a week in Sharm-El-Sheik, a kitchen aid.
The only consolation I can offer here is that most of us are in the same boat, or at least have been at some point, and that somebody somewhere is always having a wardrobe clear out or cooking a lasagne. Make sure you are always, always around when this happens.
7. Get A Job You Like
This is what we want – a job that doesn’t make us want to die inside when our alarm goes off on a Monday morning, that pays for our rent and the occasional gin, but most importantly one that we can drop at a minutes notice for an audition or a year long acting job, only to come back to it the Monday after we finish, without any consequences or losing any money. Not much to ask is it ?
I honestly think that finding that “In Between thing” was one of the hardest and most important bits of making this whole thing work over the last 5 years. When I moved to London my flatmates and I bought one suit between us and hit the temping agencies. I got through four rounds of auditions (yes, auditions) to be a temp in Harrods. I was told at the last round that I had been successful and would start the next day, only to receive a phone call at 9pm that night saying they had discovered some unnatural highlights in my hair (home dye – see number 6) and that this was simply “against everything Harrods stood for.” I was promptly demoted to John Lewis where I worked for one shift getting a migraine under the strobe lighting – and whilst giving someone a “skin care makeover” I accidentally mistook a nail varnish remover pad for a black head pad and told the customer it was “supposed to burn.” This was not my gig.
Eventually I found my little niche as a teaching assistant, mostly with children with special needs. I love it. I don’t love it as much as acting because if I did I would totally sign the contract to rinse that maternity pay and pension stuff, but it works for me. I know the world doesn’t end with my acting contract. I can get up in the morning, go to sleep at night and feel like I have added something to the world.
Find your thing, stick with it. But when leaving for an acting job, at all costs do resist the urge to scream “I’VE HIT THE BIG TIME ! SCREW YOU AND YOUR EARLY LUNCHES ELAINE !!!” – I sincerely hope that you never have to go back, but you may, and Elaine will enjoy your return a lot less if you maintain a dignified silence.
8. We should all put 50p in the swear jar every time we ask another actor “Are you working at the minute ?”
Projectile word vomit that’s what it is. We all know it’s awful, we all fucking hate being on the other side of it, we’ve all said it, we all felt like a massive Billy Bellend after we had. If you have ever sat in an Uber and despite promising yourself not to resort to benile, cliched taxi chat, suddenly blurted out “BEEN BUSY ? WHAT TIME ARE YOU ON TILL ?” into the awkward silence – it’s the same thing as that.
As actors we have to make a lot of conversations with other actors, with whom the only thing we know for sure we have in common is acting. We are also genuinely interested in acting. So obviously when in the theatre bar, an audition, a birthday, a sunday roast, a random bump-in on the street – there is a very enticing and obvious conversation starter. Just try to have another question as back up. If somebody is about to be the next James Bond, if it is important to them they will tell you. At which point lock on with both hands, promise you’ll come see it and congratulate them on their glorious achievements. It is better than watching somebody awkwardly fight their way around something that could be making them feel a little bit sad because you couldn’t think of anything else to say.
However if you are on the other side of this question and you are not working, I have recently discovered there is great liberty in saying “Nothing. Absolutley nothing.” Any actor who is not an arsehole will proceed to commiserate with you on what a fickle fucker this industry can be, then the conversation will move on, leaving you free to talk about literally ANYTHING ELSE, whilst celebrating all the other brilliant things about your glorious self. It’s quite nice actually.
9. Have Friends That Aren’t Actors. Talk About Things That Aren’t Acting.
*MOST IMPORTANT ONE KLAXON !*
Oh my Goooooood if you do nothing else, no matter where you are with all of this acting shit, do this. My friends from Bridgend bloody loved it when I was on the T.V. They screen grabbed all most every scene I was in, sending them around our what’s app group at lightning speed using many an excited-face emoji to show how proud they were. But they also couldn’t give a flying fuck if I’m working in the national or working as a temp. I bloody love them for that. They are much more interested in discussing upcoming weddings, important life events and mega lol-z at people we used to go to school with on Facebook. We all whinge about our jobs to each other and none of us has a clue what the other is talking about because everything we do is totally separate and different. It is so, so great.
I’m not saying don’t be friends with actors, most of us wouldn’t have many friends left. Also there is definitely a place for celebrating/venting about an audition/job with somebody who absolutely understands what you are going through. Just try not to do it all the time. This job takes enough of our energy when we are doing it or trying to, you’ll go absolutely mad if it takes over your social life too. If stuck for other conversation – type in “Funny Cat Videos” into youtube, sit and laugh with a friend for an hour. You can thank me for that one later.
10. And What It All Comes Down To My Friends, Is That Everything’s Gonna Be Quite Alright
7am. Rainy Monday. 2011. Bus Stop on Holloway Road. No Umbrella. Just Accidentally Checked My Bank Balance (Natwest App too close to Twitter – shittywankbuggerballs) Late For Work. Crying.
Abesentmindedly press shuffle on my iPhone whilst trying to focus on my own misery. A long forgotten voice from my childhood, downloaded in a wine induced nostalgic karaoke session with the girls – makes a bid for my attention
“I’m Broke But I’m Happy. I’m Poor But I’m Kind. I’m Short But I’m Healthy – YEAH !”
“Not now Alanis” I hiss, “I am trying to be miserable” But before I can get my finger to the shuffle button and find The Smiths, she continues;
“I’m High But I’m Grounded, I’m Sane But I’m Overwhelmed, I’m Lost But I’m Hopeful – BABY !”
“SO AM I ALANIS ! I AM SO LOST !” I scream, a dog stares concernedly.
“And What It All Comes Down Too, Is That Everthing’s Gonna Be Fine … Fine … Fine”
That song got me through a sad day, and many since. But you might very well rather mince your own tits that listen to Alanis Morrisette. All I’m saying is – find your thing that makes you feel like everything is going to be alright in the 20 minutes of panic when you feel it very much isn’t going to be. Just don’t let it be something that makes you feel even worse the next day (Yes, I can see you for what you are Jaegerbomb.) A cup of tea, phoning my Gramma, making a really crap victoria sponge and getting a text from my flatmate 3 hours later saying “There’s. Literally. Sugar. Everywhere”, blowing the dust of my guitar and playing Greenday badly, these are all small bits of sanity I have grabbed onto over the last 5 years. Just something to keep your hands and your brain busy, to keep your feet on the floor, to remind you your still here. Then all of a sudden, I promise, it will feel ok again.
And if when your agent calls with an audition you forget all about the sponge cake and burn it, if you still get butterflies in your tummy, if before you have even finished reading the script properly you are already googling “Best Digs In Hull” – Keep on plugging your A-Game you fucking trouper.
You’re on the right path.